NIGERIA: OUR FATHERS WERE WRONG

In 1983, Prof. Chinua Achebe in his book Problem with Nigeria wrote thus ‘Nigeria is not a great country; it is one of the most disorderly nations in the World. It is also one of the most corrupt, insensitive, inefficient places under the sun. It is one of the most expensive countries to live in and one that gives least values for money. It is dirty, callous, noisy, ostentatious, dishonest and vulgar. In short, it is among the most unpleasant places on the earth’ When I came across this, I could not but wonder why a World acclaimed Professor of Literature would write something so damning and condemning about his own nation. I also could not but wonder what he will write today about the state of the Nation if this was written as far back as 1983, some 29 years ago. What exactly is wrong with our nation? It is obvious that the nation is sick but what exactly aileth us in Nigeria is the question that we have unsuccessfully answered for decades now. Why will Nigeria even at the age of 52 still be ranked among failed Nations in the calibre of Chad, Somalia and Sudan? Why is the Nation so sick yet without a competent medical doctor to diagnose our disease and a respected surgeon to perform the much needed surgery? These and more are answer-defying questions that we are yet to tackle properly. Some have attempted to answer by saying that Nigeria as nation was built upon a faulty foundation. They argued that the unholy marriage of the Northern and Southern Protectorate as conducted by the ‘Priest’ Lord Lugard in 1914 was the genesis of our woes as a people. I will agree that this was a major issue in the sense that before the advent of the Europeans, communities in what is today known as Nigeria had their own separate system of political administrations. In fact, there were in existence powerful empires such as the Sokoto caliphate, the Benin Empire and the Oyo Empire but with the coming of the European came an era of attempting match making that resulted in the marriage of 1914. This, they did for ease of administrations and control. The unholy alliance of the North and South seem okay (though there were several squabbles) until the couple were granted independence in 1960. The children of the unmatchable couple such as Herbert Macaulay, Nnamdi Azikwe, Ahmadu Bello, Anthony Enahoro and Obafemi Awolowo had fought vehemently for the freedom and emancipation of their parent. With the meeting of their demands on the 1st of October, 1960, the doom of the Nation was sealed. As the Union Jack was lowered and the Nigerian green white green was hoisted up, it was as if unity was been lowered and chaos was hoisted up in its place. The earlier mentioned men came together irrespective of their ethnic background to demand for the release of their beloved land from the grip of colonialism. They were not concerned with tribal differences, they just wanted freedom and together they made this happen. Unfortunately, as soon as freedom was achieved, togetherness was thrown to the wind as they all wanted to rule the land they had so much fought for. I don’t think it was wrong for them to want to render their invaluable service to the nation but it was more than wrong for them to marginalise the nation and remind their followers of the fact that ethnicity was more important than nationalism. They built their electioneering campaigns solidly on ethnic grounds and even the political parties formed were ethnic in composition. This group of frontline leaders failed woefully to engender national development through unity; they rather widened ethnic-regional cleavages through their political ambitions. This back-stabbing politics of theirs led to the first Military coup of January 14, 1966 and this event sealed the lid on our coffin. The question to be asked therefore is, ‘were the pre-independence and 1st republic leaders in any way better than the subsequent set of leaders in Nigeria? I know different people will answer this question differently but this I can boldly say, that these fathers not only helped in achieving Independence, they also contributed negatively to the present deplorable conditions of the Nation with their political squabbles fuelled and motivated by personal ambitions rather than national development. This teaches me a lesson that whatever I do together no matter how positive can also be negative by one wrong act of omission or commission. In conclusion, in spite of their failure to facilitate national unity, we cannot deny their legacies in other areas. The free education program of Chief Obafemi Awolowo for instance has not been rivalled by any other leader in Nigeria.

NIGERIA’S INDEPENDENCE SPEECH BY ALHAJI TAFAWA BALEWA

Today is Independence Day. The first of October 1960 is a date to which for two years every Nigerian has been eagerly looking forward. At last, our great day has arrived, and Nigeria is now indeed an independent sovereign nation. Words cannot adequately express my joy and pride at being the Nigerian citizen privileged to accept from Her Royal Highness these Constitutional Instruments which are the symbols of Nigeria’s Independence. It is a unique privilege which I shall remember for ever, and it gives me strength and courage as I dedicate my life to the service of our country. This is a wonderful day, and it is all the more wonderful because we have awaited it with increasing impatience, compelled to watch one country after another overtaking us on the road when we had so nearly reached our goal. But now we have acquired our rightful status, and I feel sure that history will show that the building of our nation proceeded at the wisest pace: it has been thorough, and Nigeria now stands well-built upon firm foundations. Today’s ceremony marks the culmination of a process which began fifteen years ago and has now reached a happy and successful conclusion. It is with justifiable pride that we claim the achievement of our Independence to be unparalleled in the annals of history. Each step of our constitutional advance has been purposefully and peacefully planned with full and open consultation, not only between representatives of all the various interests in Nigeria but in harmonious cooperation with the administering power which has today relinquished its authority. At the time when our constitutional development entered upon its final phase, the emphasis was largely upon self-government. We, the elected representatives of the people of Nigeria, concentrated on proving that we were fully capable of managing our own affairs both internally and as a nation. However, we were not to be allowed the selfish luxury of focusing our interest on our own homes. In these days of rapid communications we cannot live in isolation, apart from the rest of the world, even if we wished to do so. All too soon it has become evident that for us Independence implies a great deal more than self-government. This great country, which has now emerged without bitterness or bloodshed, finds that she must at once be ready to deal with grave international issues. This fact has of recent months been unhappily emphasised by the startling events which have occurred in this continent. I shall not labour the point but it would be unrealistic not to draw attention first to the awe-inspiring task confronting us at the very start of our nationhood. When this day in October 1960 was chosen for our Independence it seemed that we were destined to move with quiet dignity to place on the world stage. Recent events have changed the scene beyond recognition, so that we find ourselves today being tested to the utmost We are called upon immediately to show that our claims to responsible government are well-founded, and having been accepted as an indepedent state we must at once play an active part in maintaining the peace of the world and in preserving civilisation. I promise you, we shall not fail for want of determination. And we come to this task better-equipped than many. For this, I pay tribute to the manner in which successive British Governments have gradually transferred the burden of responsibility to our shoulders. The assistance and unfailing encouragement which we have received from each Secretary of State for the Colonies and their intense personal interest in our development has immeasurably lightened that burden. All our friends in the Colonial Office must today be proud of their handiwork and in the knowledge that they have helped to lay the foundations of a lasting friendship between our two nations. I have indeed every confidence that, based on the happy experience of a successful partnership, our future relations with the United Kingdom will be more cordial than ever, bound together, as we shall be in the Commonwealth, by a common allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, whom today we proudly acclaim as Queen of Nigeria and Head of the Commonwealth. Time will not permit the individual mention of all those friends, many of them Nigerians, whose selfless labours have contributed to our Independence. Some have not lived to see the fulfilment of their hopes on them be peace, “but nevertheless they are remembered here, and the names of buildings and streets and roads and bridges throughout the country recall to our minds their achievements, some of them on a national scale. Others confined, perhaps, to a small area in one Division, are more humble but of equal value in the sum-total. Today, we have with us representatives of those who have made Nigeria: Representatives of the Regional Governments, of former Central Governments, of the Missionary Societies, and of the Banking and Commercial enterprises, and members, both past and present, of the Public Service. We welcome you, and we rejoice that you have been able to come and share in our celebrations. We wish that it could have been possible for all of those whom you represent to be here today: Many, I know, will be disappointed to be absent, but if they are listening to me now, I say to them, “Thank you on behalf of my Thank you for your devoted service which helped build up Nigeria into a nation. Today we are reaping the harvest which you sowed, and the quality of the harvest is equalled only by our gratitude to you. May God bless you all. This is an occasion when our hearts are filled with conflicting emotions: we are, indeed, proud to have achieved our independence, and proud that our efforts should have contributed to this happy event. But do not mistake our pride for arrogance. It is tempered by feelings of sincere gratitude to all who have shared in the task of developing Nigeria politically, socially and economically. We are grateful to the British officers whom we have known, first as masters, and then as leaders, and finally as partners, but always as friends. And there have been countless missionaries who have laboured unceasingly in the cause of education and to whom we owe many of our medical services. We are grateful also to those who have brought modern methods of banking and of commerce, and new industries. I wish to pay tribute to all of these people and to declare our everlasting admiration of their devotion to duty. And, finally, I must express our gratitude to Her Royal Highness the Princess Alexandra of Kent for personally bringing to us these symbols of our freedom, and especially for delivering the gracious message from Her Majesty The Queen. And so, with the words “God save our Queen”, I open a new chapter in the history of Nigeria, and of the Commonwealth, and indeed of the world. – The first Independence Day speech by Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Prime Minister, 1960